Ecclesiastical Separation

Albert Mohler on "when fellowship must be withdrawn"

Baptist Polity and the Integrity of the Southern Baptist Convention

If the mission [New Heart Community Church] continues in its revolt, that parent church must either repudiate the mission and sever fellowship, or it will violate its own confessional integrity and effectively remove itself from “friendly cooperation” with the SBC.

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Not Separating What God Has Joined Together - Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation

Please, consider reading all of the preceding articles before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make them each stand alone, they are linked together.

Aphorism 4: None of the commands of Scripture contradict the other commands when rightly understood, and to be correctly applied and interpreted all of the commands of Scripture must work together.

Eight hundred feet below the surface of the water, in a cramped nuclear submarine armed with ballistic missiles, my friend and newly minted lieutenant felt like he was faced with an impossible decision. On Sunday morning would he meet and worship with the dozen or so sailors on the boat that professed Christ but belonged to compromised groups (American Baptist, United Methodist, etc.) or quietly pray by himself in his bunk? Would he “be separate” (ESV, 2 Cor. 6:17) or neglect “to meet together” (Heb. 10:25)? Would he “[b]ear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) or would he “[p]urge the evil person” (1 Cor. 5:13)?

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Were Jesus and Paul Separatists? Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation

Read the series so far.

Please, consider reading all of the preceding articles before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make them each stand alone, they are linked together.

Aphorism 1: The debate between Bible believing Christians about separation is fundamentally about the how to apply the passages in the Bible commanding separation.

Aphorism 2: All applications of the commands of Scripture are based on a particular context outside the Bible. Therefore unless the context is identical to what was intended by the Bible, an application cannot be as normative as Scripture itself.

Aphorism 3: Applications of the commands of separation must take into account Jesus’ and Paul’s application of these same commands as recorded in the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles.

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Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation: Command, Intent and Application

Please, consider reading the preceding article before delving into this one. While I’ve tried to make each stand alone, they are linked together.

Aphorism 1: The debate among Bible believing Christians about separation is fundamentally about the how to apply the passages in the Bible commanding separation.

Aphorism 2: All applications of the commands of Scripture are based on a particular context outside the Bible. Therefore unless the context is identical to what was intended by the Bible, an application cannot be as normative as Scripture itself.

Allow me to share an explicit command of Scripture, repeated five times in the New Testament which is patently ignored at least in literal obedience by almost all churches in the United States: “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (ESV, 1 Peter 5:14; cf. 1 Thess. 5:26, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Cor. 16:20, Rom. 16:16).

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Aphorisms for Thinking about Separation: Setting the Stage

Some time ago I had a long talk and walk with an older, godly, academic separatist about the history of separatism. By separatist, I mean someone who separates not only from apostasy but also separates from those who do not separate from apostasy. (I am being vague on the timing and details as the conversation was a friendly courtesy to me.)

About an hour or so into our talk, I played my rhetorical trump card—the original word for Pharisee means separatist. It cut him deep. And for first time we moved from theory to life. I looked into the eyes of a godly, thoughtful man and recognized the truth of what he next said with tears welling up in his eyes, “I am not trying to be a Pharisee; I am just trying to serve Jesus.”

I backpedalled a bit and tried to draw out the sting of my words. We recovered the emotional balance of the conversation and moved on. Yet the Holy Spirit has used the conversation and the moment of deeply hurting a servant of my Lord as a helpful reminder to speak and write carefully on this issue.

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Forgetting the Doctrine of Separation?

From Voice, Mar/Apr 2014. Used by permission.

This is a call to purity and balance. It represents that truth of God’s Word which has fallen upon the rocks of neglect in today’s American Church. It represents teaching from the Bible which seems so terribly out of harmony with our American culture. It almost seems pugnacious, no matter how graciously it may be stated.

This is about the doctrine of separation, biblical holiness in life and relationships.

I have watched with growing dismay as so many in the American evangelical church have cheerfully descended into theological illiteracy lacking any sense of doctrinal discernment which is based on the careful study and application of the Scriptures. And the “problem is that even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing.”1

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Separation: Can We Have a Better Debate?

The biblical doctrine of separation is difficult to discuss. I’ve read, listened to, and participated in quite a few exchanges over the years. More often than not, no movement toward consensus, or even increase in clarity, seemed to result. It’s not unusual for a discussion on the topic to end with—apparently—less mutual understanding than existed at the start, despite the fact that everybody involved seems to genuinely desire to know, live, and teach what the Scriptures require of us. (By the way, long before Internet, this sort of back and forth was going on in magazines, newsletters and pamphlets. It just moved slower in those days.)

So why is the topic so messy?

I don’t fully understand why clarity about separation is so elusive. I do continue to believe, though, that there is ultimately no reason why the various perspectives on the subject can’t be clearly distinguished from one another in accurate and mutually-accepted terms. In other words, though we’re unlikely to ever see complete agreement between conservative evangelicals, 20th century-style movement-fundamentalists, and all the miscellaneous-other among us, it really is possible to reach a point where the differences among us are clear, well understood, and debated mostly on-point—to the benefit of all who seek to know and obey the truth.

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